“How Much of a Memoir Should Be True?” by D.G. Kaye

It was a pleasure having Linda Gray Sexton writing a guest post for us under the topic “How Much of a Memoir Should Be True?”

Today, you are getting an opportunity to read the guest post from D.G. Kaye on “How Much of a Memoir Should Be True?”. We hope you enjoy reading her guest post and we welcome you to share your opinions below.

D.G. Kaye

 

Writing in memoir is recognized as a factual accounting of a story, people and places. Memoirs are personal recollections of memories based on a theme, constructed into a story, as experienced by the author. The author is required to tell the story to the best of his/her recollection; as he/she remembers the incidents. This doesn’t negate the fact that there are memoirs written as fiction, but a true nonfiction memoir as stated, should always be factual.

If any of the elements in a nonfiction memoir are altered or expanded, for the purpose of adding drama to spice up the story, then it is no longer truth and should be classified as fiction, or at least noted in the Afterword of a book.

There is also the matter of a grey area, an issue about some authors changing names or professions of characters to maintain anonymity for those people in their books for their characters whom don’t wish to be exploited publicly. Some will say that if names are changed the story is not true. I don’t agree with that belief. I feel that if we keep a story true and concise to actual events, changing the names of characters to protect their identity does not take away from the truth of the story.

Another common question asked about memoirs is, what constitutes truth? One person’s recollection of memory is often perceived differently than a close family member’s own recollection. The impact that situations have on each individual person are often interpreted differently according to each character’s personal experience concerning the story. This doesn’t negate the truth. The author recants a story as they remember it, and tells about how it has affected him or her personally. It is still a memoir from the author’s point of view of his/her own personal perspective.

OXFORD DICTIONARY DEFINITION:  A historical account or biography written from personal knowledge or special sources.

MERRIAM WEBSTER DEFINITION:  A written account of someone or something that is usually based on personal knowledge of the subject.

There has been controversy in the past, where writers had been accused of sensationalizing stories and calling them memoirs. The repercussions can invite public humiliation when they are condemned for fraudulent writing. The bottom line is that the whole story—events, people, locations, should be true.

I will emphasize again that by changing a character’s name to protect his or her privacy, doesn’t take away the truth of the story, nor does it alter the storyline. Other than the author extending the courtesy of privacy protection, I believe everything else in a memoir should be authentic.

 

D.G. Kaye

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September Author Interview Answer #8 : What would you like to say to your readers?

Hello everyone, I hope you have enjoyed reading the 7th post in this interview series. This is the last post in this interview series with author Debby G. Kaye and Linda Gray Sexton. Please check their bios out via the links you can see below.

Let’s check out the answers for question #8 from them.

“What would you like to say to your readers?

Author #1 D. G. Kaye

I’d love to thank my readers for spending their valuable time reading my books. My writing is based on my own experiences and point of view. I write for others who can relate to, or identify with my stories, in the hopes that they may be able to take a message or lesson from my writing.

Author #2 Linda Sexton
I want everyone who reads my work to write to me and give me his or her reaction.  It is invaluable for a writer to connect with her audience and learn what is working and what isn’t.  No one can tell you that more candidly or effectively than readers.  Critics always have an axe to grind.  Readers tend to be, as a majority, unfailingly accurate.  So go to my website and let me hear what you think!  I am there for you!
Thank you Linda and Debby for taking part in this interview! IBP wishes you all the best! 🙂
Thank you all for reading this interview with Linda and Debby.
Share your thoughts and views below.

September Author Interview Answer #7:How do deal with people who disagree with your thoughts and views and how do you defend your point of views?

Hello everyone, I hope you have enjoyed reading the sixth post in this interview series. This is the continuation of the interview with author Debby G. Kaye and Linda Gray Sexton. Please check their bios out via the links you can see below.

Let’s check out the answers for question #7 from them.

“How do deal with people who disagree with your thoughts and views and how do you defend your point of views?”

Author #1 D. G. Kaye

I always try to empathize with people. Everyone is entitled to his or her thoughts and opinions. I don’t argue with people. If I’m confronted about a certain issue, I hear the person out and try to convey my point of view in an amicable manner, standing firm in my beliefs. I will try to express my logic for my thoughts and if I find I’m at a dead end, I quietly find a polite way to walk away.

Author #2 Linda Sexton
I try to change the subject and I never defend my viewpoint.  It’s a zero sum game.  People will believe what they want to believe and you can’t change their minds.  Likewise, they can’t change your mind about what you have achieved—or you should be strong and certain enough about what you have written so that they can’t.
It takes courage to express one’s opinion and we are not obliged to agree with critics all the time. We have our own opinions; to each his own. 
I’ll be posting the answers to the seventh question next: “What would you like to say to your readers? ”
Share your thoughts and views below.

September Author Interview Answer #6: What was the best and worst criticism that you have received for your work?

Hello everyone, I hope you have enjoyed reading the fifth post in this interview series. This is the continuation of the interview with author Debby G. Kaye and Linda Gray Sexton. Please check their bios out via the links you can see below.

Let’s check out the answers for question #6 from them.

“What was the best and worst criticism that you have received for your work? ”

Author #1 D. G. Kaye

The best criticism came from my brother, when he told me that I held back a bit from going into more detail about my mother. I couldn’t bring myself to do so while she was still living, but I understood what he was conveying. I thankfully haven’t received any real criticism other than two bad reviews on Amazon. It is inspiring to know that I’ve connected with readers with the subjects I write about.

Author #2 Linda Sexton
In one review The New York Times Book Review called my writing “purple prose.”  In a review in the daily New York Times, Michiko Kakutani called it “powerful and affecting.”  Just two examples off the top of my head.  No one has ever quibbled with what I am trying to say—rather they either praise or denigrate the way I am trying to say it.
It takes courage to write the truth! You both have what it takes to write memoirs! Congratulations for that!
I’ll be posting the answers to the seventh question next: “How do deal with people who disagree with your thoughts and views and how do you defend your point of views? ”
Share your thoughts and views below.

September Author Interview Answer #5: How do you felt when you managed to complete a book?

Hello everyone, I hope you have enjoyed reading the forth post in this interview series. This is the continuation of the interview with author Debby G. Kaye and Linda Gray Sexton. Please check their bios out via the links you can see below.

Let’s check out the answers for question #5 from them.

“How do you felt when you managed to complete a book?”

Author #1 D. G. Kaye

After completing my book, besides the feeling of accomplishment, I was very apprehensive about publishing it. I stalled the publication for a few weeks, even after it was ready for print. I had several conversations with my siblings for approval, making sure that they were okay with my publishing the book. At the time, I was scared that my mother might read it and consider having me sued. That thought instilled a new burden of guilt I felt; only this time, it was self-imposed. And yes, my mother was quite capable of doing something like that. Someone did tell her I wrote the book and her response was venomous. Thankfully, nothing ever came of her threats. When I did finally publish my book, it was exhilarating.

Author #2 Linda Sexton
I always feel an immense sense of relief that I have finished a completed work, delighted to have been able to have managed it, and proud.  It is liberating to feel you have told your own story fully and well and not been influenced by outsiders or critics.  In the end, it is pleasing yourself that matters.
Thank you for sharing your opinions. Keep up the good work and we all admire your work so much! So, keep writing!
I’ll be posting the answers to the sixth question next: “What was the best and worst criticism that you have received for your work?”
Share your thoughts and views below.

September Author Interview Answer #4: How supportive is your family and friends in your writing career?

Hello everyone, I hope you have enjoyed reading the third post in this interview series. This is the continuation of the interview with author Debby G. Kaye and Linda Gray Sexton. Please check their bios out via the links you can see below.

Let’s check out the answers for question #3 from them.

“How supportive is your family and friends in your writing career? ”

Author #1 D. G. Kaye

A writer’s life is complex. Much of the time, we live in our heads. I don’t feel that many of the people in my life really understand the life of a writer; all the time and seclusion involved. With saying this, I do have two of my closest friends that cheer me on and don’t give me a hard time for the lack of my presence in their lives. My husband is wonderful. He lets me be and doesn’t approach me when he sees me at the keyboard or with pen and paper at hand. He doesn’t quite understand all that I do, but he supports me, applauds me and loves me, so I am truly blessed. Others in my life have no conception what is involved to be a full-time writer and can’t get past regarding it as a past time or a hobby.

Author #2 Linda Sexton
Moderately.  My sister says, “I wish you could find something that would make you happy.”  My father wasn’t too keen, either.  My mother said before her death, “Never be a writer.  I will follow you around like an old gray ghost.”  So I guess I can’t say my family was supportive.  Friends are supportive, mostly, though some don’t buy my books, which I find odd.  I’d say the people who are the most supportive are my husband, my ex-husband, my readers and my friends who are writers.
I can’t thank you both enough for sharing your opinions genuinely. I can understand that the support from family members and friends can be a little disappointing when it comes to writing memoirs. This can be a bit different from the support fiction writers receive from their families and friends. Keep up the good work and we all admire your courage!
I’ll be posting the answers to the fifth question next: “Writing memoirs can be very liberating. Tell us how you felt when you managed to complete a book?”
Share your thoughts and views below.

“How Much of a Memoir Should Be True?” by Linda Gray Sexton

Hello readers! We have decided to introduce authors via guest posts. Writers are good in expressing themselves and it’s worth reading their thoughts and views on issues related to the writing world. We are posting interviews from the Memoirs/Biography genre this month and we have Linda Gray Sexton, the daughter of Anne Sexton sharing her thoughts on “How Much of a Memoir Should Be True?”. We hope you enjoy reading her guest post and we welcome you to share your opinions below.

Linda Gray Sexton

Linda Gray Sexton, author of Bespotted: My Family’s Love Affair with Thirty-Eight Dalmatians

I have no doubt that every part of a memoir should be true.  That is what differentiates it from fiction, a genre in which every word is drawn from the author’s imagination.  And perhaps we also distinguish memoir from autobiography because, as we experience this form of literature today, it is not a simple accounting of facts, but rather a story drawn from one’s emotions and the life they reflect, susceptible to wanderings and flashbacks and other thematic intertwinings.

 

How does a writer determine what is “true?”  Truth is subjective for us all and we can only tell our own stories with the best sense of integrity we have.  Sometimes the truth can be softened by grace and gratitude and a sense of compassion for all those involved.  Nothing is so hard on family and friends as the personal exposure a memoir can bring when it is published.

 

In my second memoir, Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide, a person central to the story took exception to a small detail and asked that I change it in a minor way.  Because I didn’t really “need” it in order to portray that part of my life, I did delete it while the book was still a manuscript.  I didn’t reinvent anything, I just removed one small part of what was, in fact, a tiny bit of my truth.  I felt the compromise was actually no compromise at all.  I also used a pseudonym for this person, as requested, because again I did not feel it mattered in any intrinsic way to my candor or honesty.  I have never changed a place or a date, or consolidated scenes and events.

 

On the other hand, there was one person who was very dear to me, who did object to many of the aspects of the memoir, feeling misunderstood and angry.  Because I saw no way to soften this without compromising the facts and emotions with which the memoir dealt, I suggested that there are many perspectives from which a story can be told: just as two people can enter the same room from different doors and see that room in entirely different ways, so can two people disagree about what actually occurred.  It was my story and I felt entitled to tell it my way.  I left everything intact and simply dealt with the anger aroused.  Sometimes memoir hurts those involved, but because I believed the book would reach out in an important way to others beyond family and friends, I felt certain enough to continue.

 

My sons and sister were also extremely affected by Half in Love.  I did something I believe is unusual in the genre: I invited them to come sit with me and talk about how my depression and suicide attempts had made them feel.  I tape-recorded these conversations so that later on, while writing the memoir, I would be able to refer back to them and, if necessary, quote accurately from them.  I did end up quoting verbatim from these sessions, and I also gave them galleys of the book early on, so that they could perhaps be better prepared for what they, or others, would read.  I changed nothing in galley, even after they offered their comments.

 

With Searching for Mercy Street the situation was also intense.  My mother’s sister and her daughters violently objected to what I had written, in particular with my portrait of their father, believing that what I had written was biased and false. On the op-ed page of the New York Times, they accused me of lying in order to bring myself a wider audience and acquire a warped sort of fame.  I refused to respond either in person or in print.

 

Because it does not deal with painful family secrets in any profound manner, Bespotted: My Family’s Love Affair with Thirty-Eight Dalmatians aroused no animosity from anyone.  For this, I am grateful.  It was hard enough to cope with the first two times around.

 

In the end, a memoir is your own story, written from your own perspective, and ultimately is nothing more than that.  When family members or friends contest what I have created, I simply suggest to them that they write a book from their viewpoint. Ultimately, I believe everyone is entitled to his own truths, including the author, whether others like it—or not.